New Study Links Violent Video Game To More Headshots

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Playing video games that involve violent shooting can heighten firing accuracy and influence players to aim for the head, researchers have confirmed in a unique new study.

On the positive side, this might suggest a potential increased role for gaming in police firearms training, but on the other hand, given the rampant popularity of video games among civilians, the findings may reveal an intensified threat to officers in gun confrontations.

At Ohio State University, Drs. Jodi Whitaker and Brad Bushman tested 151 student volunteers, predominately Caucasians and about half of them males. They were randomly assigned to play either a violent shooting game with realistic “humanoid” targets, a nonviolent shooting game with bull’s-eye targets, or a nonviolent, nonshooting game for 20 minutes.

Some of those playing the shooting games used a standard, button-pushing controller; others, a pistol-shaped controller that required pulling a trigger to fire. During shooting that was nonstop throughout, participants in these groups each fired about 300 “rounds.”

After playing the assigned video game, all volunteers then fired 16 rounds apiece from an Airsoft training pistol at a mannequin 20 feet down a narrow hallway. The gun had the same weight, texture, and recoil as a real 9mm semiauto.

  • “Overall,” the researchers note, “participants who played the realistic violent game with humanoid targets with a pistol-shaped controller were the most accurate shooters and hit the mannequin’s head most often.” Indeed, these subjects had “99% more headshots than did other participants.”
  • Those volunteers also scored 33% more hits to other body parts than did the other subjects.
  • The participants who played the nonviolent, nonshooting game had the fewest head hits and fewest successful shots elsewhere as well.

Previous experience with firearms “did not affect the results,” the researchers point out. “[P]laying the realistic shooting game with a pistol-shaped controller for only 20 minutes still increased firing aim and accuracy with the training pistol.”

The violent video game rewarded headshots with an instant “kill,” the researchers explained, so players were “more likely to repeat this behavior outside of the video game context.” In shooting at the mannequin, they “practiced behaviors that had previously been reinforced, namely “aiming accurately at the target and aiming for the head.” They adapted readily to the realistic training gun from the pistol-shaped controller via a “mechanistic transfer.”

The researchers emphasize that the study does not mean “that a person who plays violent shooting games is more likely to fire a real gun at a person.” But, they write, the results do indicate that “if such a person were to fire a gun, he or she would fire more accurately and be more likely to aim for the head.”

The study appears in the journal Communication Research under the title “‘Boom, Headshot!’: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy.” CLICK HERE to access the full report for a fee.

Our thanks to Canadian trainer Chris Lawrence, a faculty member for FSI’s certification course in Force Science Analysis, for alerting us to this study.

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